FOX Sports NBA Writer
MIAMI — Just three days ago, the Denver Nuggets took a slap in the mouth and lost Game 2 of the NBA Finals, their first home loss this postseason.
Jamal Murray struggled to score as he seemed overwhelmed by the Miami Heat’s defense. And Nikola Jokic, who is averaging a triple-double in these playoffs, was relatively crowded — that is, he scored 41 points but was reduced to Only As a goalscorer, he only provided four assists.
For a Denver team hoping to win their first championship in franchise history, the loss of home field advantage was heartbreaking.
So the nuggets will be reset in the next few days.
They had a team dinner at Jeff Green’s home in South Florida. They had a constructive film session where each player had an opportunity to comment on what they could have done better.
“You have to turn the negative into something positive,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said ahead of Game 3. “And maybe that’s a wake-up call. Maybe it’s like, ‘Hey man, understand the moment we’re in.’ — and don’t get involved.’”
Jokic and Murray responded by making history as the Nuggets won 109-94 in Game 3 to take a 2-1 lead.
Jokic had 32 points, 21 rebounds and 10 assists – the first 30-20-10 game in NBA Finals history. Murray had 34 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists, the third straight game in which he had 10 dimes.
It was the first time in NBA history — whether in the regular season or the playoffs — that teammates had 30-point triple-doubles in the same game.
“By far their greatest effort as a duo in seven years together,” Malone said.
Both players were the best versions of themselves. The Nuggets led the way in rebounds (58 to 33), assists (28 to 20), and field goal percentage (51.2% to 37%). Helpless in their two-man symphony, the Heat’s defense was unable to slow down any aspect of their games.
The teammates then praised each other.
When Jokic was asked what happens when Murray plays such a full game, he said: “We win. I think that’s pretty easy.”
And when asked about Jokic’s dominance, Murray said: “He’s a very special player.”
Jokic and Murray are in the final for the first time in their careers. They have weathered heartbreaking losses and devastating injuries together. But on Wednesday, a bond that has grown over nearly a decade came into its own.
“I would say it’s a confidence and a feeling,” Murray said. “That’s the best way for me to put it. It’s not really about X’s and O’s. It’s just reading the game and trusting that the other player will make the right play.”
Murray said they learned to read each other. They’re both capable of doing so many things on the pitch. They know when to take over. And they know when to give each other space.
This dance was performed on the NBA’s biggest stage on Wednesday, with both of them making each other shine.
“If he blames me, he knows and expects what he’ll see from me,” Murray said. “And he knows the mood I’m in, the intensity I’m playing at, low or high, the time and the score and vice versa.”
“I know when he’s overplaying, I know when he’s trying to score, I know when he’s the best player on the field, I know when he takes a second to get into the game.”
It was a statement win for the Nuggets’ superstars. After Game 2, Jokic admitted that after such a defeat there was “a bad atmosphere” and “poor dynamic”. Murray blamed himself for the loss. He had just 18 points, a significant drop from the 27 points he averaged this postseason. Malone put his arm around him during practice on Tuesday and made sure he felt his support.
“That’s what champions do,” Malone said. “That’s what warriors do. You fought back. I felt his presence all day. Forget the stats for a second. I felt Jamal’s presence, his energy and he was here in the moment.”
Now the Nuggets are just two wins away from writing the only story they really care about.
Shortly after the Game 2 wake-up call, Denver appears to be on guard.
“I felt like this was by far our best and most complete game in the series,” Malone said.
Melissa Rohlin is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. She has previously covered the league for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Times, the Bay Area News Group and the San Antonio Express-News. Follow her on Twitter @melissarohlin.
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